Jacquie’s 2017 Year in Review – Anime

Year-end best-of lists are highly subjective things. Let me just state that upfront as I suspect my list is going to look nothing like pretty much anyone else’s top 10 for 2017!

As usual, titles that finished airing (or finished airing for the foreseeable future) in 2017 were eligible for consideration. Click on the links below to view the previous seasonal write-ups for each show.

☆ TOP 10 ANIME:

#1. Ikemen Sengoku: Bromances Across Time (Ikemen Sengoku: Toki wo Kakeru ga Koi wa Hajimaranai) (12 episodes)

Aired Summer 2017

This is pretty surprising even to me. Yes this is reality; my chosen anime of the year is a short. And not just any short, but a full-on CGI one! Previously, I never would have imagined that a short format series could be a contender for my yearly top 10. Then I saw Ikemen Sengoku, which made impeccably good use of its limited runtime. It was the most entertaining Sengoku-period time slip story I have ever seen. It was also the best anime featuring Oda Nobunaga that I’ve seen, and there have been many.

The computer graphics were not especially high tech, but they were creatively used and all the tiny details in the warlords’ clothing, movements, and expressions were a delight to behold.

The show conveyed the guys’ personalities very succinctly and efficiently. The voice actors did an amazing job too. No matter the ridiculousness of the body proportions or absurdity of the situations, the seiyuu played it completely straight all the time.

My sister and I were both captivated by Ikemen Sengoku. We watched and rewatched and watched again. We laughed at the cuteness and the gags; we bonded over our shared experiences, including catching the latest episode at the airport once right before a Wednesday flight in August; and we argued over which end card was the most lewd. (For the record, I said Masamune’s, based on the English text; she asserted that Shingen’s was worst, based on the spoken Japanese.)

The craziness didn’t even stop there. The whole intent of this type of anime is to sell the related game and goods – and I was completely sold on the franchise. My sister and I collectively spent over a hundred dollars on IkeSen café drinks while we were in Tokyo. We each also downloaded the mobile game (something I’ve never been inclined to do before, in spite of all the game-adaptation anime I’ve seen over the years) and enjoyed it so much that we started throwing money at it. I have no regrets.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#2. Rage of Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL (Shingeki no Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL) (24 episodes)

Aired Spring 2017 to Summer 2017

Rage of Bahamut 2 dominated my rankings for almost half the year. So how did it end up ceding the top spot to IkeSen? The answer is that endings are important to me, and I felt that BahaSOUL sadly dropped the ball in its final stretch. Specifically, it was the meaningless deaths of 2 prominent and well-loved characters that troubled me the most. Well that, and the implication that everyone’s efforts and sacrifices were maybe all for nothing in the end.

Because it was so wildly enjoyable otherwise, though, it still manages to hang on to the number 2 spot against ACCA.

#3. ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept (13-ku Kansatsu-ka) (12 episodes)

Aired Winter 2017

ACCA was ultimately more satisfying than BahaSOUL, but it was also more of a slow burn. Underlying the mundane absurdity of this political mystery anime, there was actually a lot of heart. ACCA ended up as my favourite series of the winter season, and also the show on this list that I would most recommend to a general audience, even those who may not share my eccentric taste in anime.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#4. RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE (Netojuu no Susume) (10 episodes + OVA)

Aired Autumn 2017

This was already finished airing when I wrote about it recently. The additional OVA episode presented a couple of comedic side stories. They were sweet and fun, even if they didn’t add much to the main story.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#5. STARMYU High School Star Musical Season 2 (12 episodes)

Aired Spring 2017

STARMYU 2 was an excellent follow-up to the first season. It was funny and entertaining, and it delivered on expectations and then some.

The weakest part was the ending. It is admirable to take heroic measures because “the show must go on,” but I believe there should be a limit to that, especially when physical injury (and the potential for long-term complications) is involved. (This actually applies to DREAM FESTIVAL! R as well.) So I have mixed feelings about its final message, but overall, it was pretty great.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#6. MADE IN ABYSS (13 episodes)

Aired Summer 2017

Unfortunately, I was somewhat bored during the middle section of MADE IN ABYSS. Also, the show occasionally made some uncomfortable choices that I had to struggle to not see as fetishistic fanservice; and obviously the story is not really over yet.

The things that worked, though, were phenomenally effective. Character-wise, I really felt for Nanachi and her plight; and I’ve already gone on at length about my fondness for Reg. Plot-wise, the last story arc was outstanding. It was sensitively-written, chillingly horrifying, and heart-wrenching. It broke me, but I’m glad I watched.

#7. Mobile Suit GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS (Tekketsu no Orphans) (50 episodes)

Aired Autumn 2015 to Winter 2016, then Autumn 2016 to Winter 2017

The word-building and character-writing were really great. I appreciated the realistic, bittersweet ending too. Sure, the show had its ups and downs for me, but ultimately I would count it among my favourite GUNDAM series.

It was an added bonus that part of it was set in Canada. It’s also remarkable that one of the main characters became a paraplegic in the middle of the story. And never before had I ever had the occasion to think, “This man deserves a harem” until I met Naze!
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#8. Descending Stories: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (Sukeroku Futatabi-hen) (12 episodes)

Aired Winter 2017

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu‘s first season was the lead up to a foretold tragic event. The second season covered the aftermath of that tragedy, perfectly balancing the despairing feelings of the cast with interactions that showed love and forgiveness. Yotarou, with his endless generosity and open-heartedness, served as the physical embodiment of those values. I really enjoyed being immersed in their world and following the lives of these well-written characters.

That final episode twist, unfortunately, was too much for me. We already knew this was going to be a bittersweet story, and that characters we loved were going to die. It wasn’t necessary to sugarcoat the ending, especially not in such an awkward way. Usually, when a show has a crappy ending, it doesn’t cancel out the goodness of what came before it. This ending actually did, because its misguided reveal tainted the preceding events and forced you to see them in a new light.

By rights, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 should have been much higher on this list. Instead, I was so turned off of the whole thing after seeing the last episode, that it is with reluctance that I’m placing it even at number 8.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#9. DREAM FESTIVAL! R (12 episodes)

Aired mid-Summer to mid-Autumn 2017

I thought DREAM FESTIVAL! was one of the lesser known idol franchises, so it was a bit of a surprise to see the anime get a sequel. You know, I didn’t realize how much I liked and missed these guys until I saw them again. I especially enjoyed the first half, with its extended focus on Yuuto and Keigo of KUROFUNE. The portrayal of Keigo’s personal insecurities, in spite of his flashy good looks and flamboyant stage presence, felt very real to me.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#10. INUYASHIKI LAST HERO (11 episodes)

Aired Autumn 2017

Although there was ultimately no real message to INUYASHIKI, it did provide an interesting and thought-provoking look at the (mostly) irresponsible use of great power and what consequences it would have on society and on the ones wielding that power.

**********************************************************************************************

☆ Best Recap Episode:


Re:CREATORS ep.13. As was usual for this anime, Meteora talked and talked. But this time, there was added snark to her deadpan exposition. She even pinpointed some of the show’s and characters’ flaws and made fun of them! In her narration, she humorously played up her own character, while resorting to nicknames for people that she couldn’t be bothered to remember the names of. It was really funny and I enjoyed it a lot more than any part of the actual show itself. Best recap episode ever.

☆ Favourite Seiyuu:

Umehara Yuuichirou

I enjoyed so many of his roles in 2017, most notably: Charioce XVII, the smokin’ hot evil sovereign from Rage of Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL; Eugene Sevenstark, Orga’s loyal and outspoken deputy in GUNDAM: IRON BLOODED ORPHANS; and of course, my favourite chibi warlord from my number one anime of the year, Takeda Shingen.

Umehara was responsible for breathing some life into a whole bunch of stoic, expressionless dudes during the fall season: Ushii from JUNI TAISEN, Ouni from Children of the Whales, TSUKIPRO‘s Dai, DYNAMIC CHORD‘s Shinobu, THE iDOLM@STER SideM‘s Kyouji, and SENGOKU NIGHT BLOOD’s Date Masamune. In general, though, it was probably more fun to hear him voicing impassioned characters like hard-luck Shinsengumi member Nagakura Shinpachi in Chiruran ½ from earlier in the year.

Umehara has a great voice, I like his performance style, and I also tend to like the types of characters he gets to play, so I will definitely be paying attention to any shows I see his name in from now on.

☆ Anime Songs Top 9 Countdown:

It’s a tiny list for me this year! As usual, the songs are evaluated primarily on the music, not the accompanying visuals of the shows they’re associated with. And it’s the full songs, not the TV-size versions, that are being considered.

09. Kakuran Romantist, by Date Masamune(cv:Umehara Yuuichirou) (SENGOKU NIGHT BLOOD ep.7 ED)

08. sh0ut, by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Tielle&Gemie (Re:CREATORS OP2)

07. Hoshi no furu machi, by Numakura Manami (Fuuka insert song)

06. Yes / No, by STAR☆CONCERTO (Ikemen Sengoku: Bromances Across Time OP)

05. Masayoshi-ron, by Uesugi Kenshin(cv:Toriumi Kousuke) (SENGOKU NIGHT BLOOD ep.6 ED)

04. SunSunSunrise, by 9nine (THE REFLECTION ED)

03. gravityWall, by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Tielle&Gemie (Re:CREATORS OP1)

02. LET iT END, by SiM (Rage of Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL OP1)

01. FEED THE FIRE, by coldrain (King’s Game The Animation OP)

Jacquie’s 2017 Year in Review – Music

I’m not inclined to do any kind of proper ranking for the past year’s music, so I’ll just recall some of the works that captured my attention and also a piece of my music budget in 2017.  Presented in alphabetical order by artist.

Angelo

I haven’t really been keeping up with Angelo, despite the fact that one of my favourite guitarists – Karyu (ex-D’espairsRay) – plays in the band, because KIRITO’s voice and hypo-melodic singing style are usually not to my taste. I don’t know, something must have changed, because “HETERODOX” is a pretty good listen all the way through! Even though it’s not quite as heavy as the music I typically listen to, it’s great in the car; and my CD is still spinning there now, as it has been since I received it back in October.

Favourite tracks: evil, Saigennai kawaki, HETERODOX

Actually, evil is my favourite song of 2017. Angelo uploaded the clip below, featuring the full PV for evil a patience-testing 3 months before the album (and any of its music) went on sale. I heard Karyu’s touch in this beautiful track immediately. By that, I suppose I what I mean is that the way I felt when I listened to it was similar to how I felt when I used to listen to some D’espairsRay songs. Karyu is indeed the song’s composer, as I later confirmed. KIRITO nails his delivery too; the slightly raspy vocals he uses really suit the song, and I don’t think he has ever sounded better.

coldrain

“FATELESS” was another solid release from coldrain. Seriously, these guys never let me down. The only song I got tired of was the one they didn’t write, UNINVITED (although it was kind of cool that they covered Alanis Morissette).

Favourite tracks: A DECADE IN THE RAIN, FEED THE FIRE

(FATELESS-album is available on iTunes Canada)

defspiral

The best news is that defspiral’s music is now on iTunes. Previously, I had to wait until I was in Japan to buy their CDs because they were not attainable from my usual online sites and also not available digitally. But no longer! Even the instrumental tracks are up, which is important; not only do defspiral instrumentals sound perfectly great on their own, but I always enjoy the full songs more after hearing them!

(AFTERGLOW-single, PHANTOM-single, TO THE GALAXY-album are all available on iTunes Canada)

lynch.

At the start of 2017, lynch. were in a dark place. Akinori, their bassist, resigned from the band in the fall of 2016 following his arrest for marijuana possession. The remaining members were so unhappy with the situation, they were reluctant to continue without him. But they had to. Refusing to hire someone new, lynch. instead enlisted the services of several well-known bassists to help in the recording of their 2017 releases.

Things are looking up for 2018, as Akinori is coming back!

Typically, when a Japanese musician has to quit in order to not bring shame upon his band, it is a life sentence, regardless of the nature of his crime. It is pretty unheard of for such a person to ever be reinstated. But this is lynch.. The way I see it, they never needed an official bass player. They were a 4-piece for many years before Akinori came along. It has to be him. And it warms my heart that lynch. are about to be reunited at last.

Favourite tracks off “SINNERS”: KALEIDO, SORROW

(SINNERS-EP and BLOOD THIRSTY CREATURE-single are both available on iTunes Canada)

OLDCODEX

“they go, WHERE?” had a couple of songs that I couldn’t listen to (smiling, Julio), but overall, it was a balanced effort by OLDCODEX. Their previously released SERVAMP and Kuroko’s Basketball songs were included. And A Black Toy aptly demonstrated that they can put together a very competent techno-dance song, and at the very same time, still prove that rock is best!

Favourite tracks (not including Deal with, which was released in 2016): Million from Codex, Outsomnia

ONE OK ROCK

ONE OK ROCK released 2 versions of “AMBITIONS” early in 2017, one for their domestic audience in Japan, and the other, with all English lyrics and a slightly different track list, for international listeners. Not every song clicked with me, which is how it goes for me and ONE OK ROCK, but there were definitely a number of gems, including Bedroom Warfare, Bombs Away, Lost in Tonight

And favourite track (not including Taking Off, which was released in 2016): Bon Voyage. At face value, the lyrics are about a depressing break up; but I can’t help but sense some hopefulness too, as if someone who was caught in a toxic or abusive relationship finally has found the strength and resolve to move on. The way the light keyboard melody rises above the dark-sounding guitar and bass, sounds almost giddy to me and reinforces this hopeful feeling.

(AMBITIONS-album, international version is available on iTunes Canada)

SHIN

“Good Morning Dreamer” was the solo EP release of SHIN (ex-ViViD). I was pleasantly surprised to discover that his new music is more in line with the side of ViViD that I had liked most, the rock side that is. SHIN really is an amazing singer, and it’s great to hear from him again.

Favourite tracks: Weakend, 4444

VAMPS

Like ONE OK ROCK, VAMPS aimed to widen their international fan base in 2017 with the release of a full-length, all-English album. My previous experience with VAMPS music was kind of ambivalent – some of their songs I really loved, but many I didn’t. “UNDERWORLD,” which included previous singles CALLING, INSIDE OF ME, Rise Or Die, and Sin In Justice, turned out to be impressively good, and really consistent too. Unfortunately, this might be the last we hear from VAMPS for a while, as HYDE and K.A.Z. put their project on hiatus in December in order to recharge.

Favourite track: RISE UP, because I love the dark melody and heavy instrumentation. The theme of saying goodbye to the past and starting anew (as if, but not limited to, giving up your mortal life to become a vampire), which recurs throughout the album, is perfectly captured in RISE UP.

(UNDERWORLD-album is available on iTunes Canada)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

Like The Force Awakens, if you think about some of the events in The Last Jedi a little bit, it doesn’t completely make sense.

For instance, at one point Finn and Rose go off to find the Master Codebreaker, only knowing their target would be in a certain place and wearing a specific piece of attire. That’s actually worse than the “Map to Luke.” What, this nameless guy is in that one location always? He never goes home to sleep; he has the attire visibly displayed at all times; and there’s no chance he’s already been enlisted in someone else’s mission? At least things don’t go exactly the way they wanted, but it’s still not quite believable that Finn & co. would even bother to undertake such a not-well-thought-out-virtually-zero-chance-of-success plan.

Also, I thought it was a ridiculously stupid mistake for the Resistance to voluntarily sacrifice one of their top personnel when this was clearly not even the final battle. Narrative-wise, I understood why it had to happen; but considering the difficult fight that’s certainly still ahead, it made no sense.

It seemed like half the things the characters were trying to do were for nothing.

Beyond this, I know many dissatisfied viewers have questioned the portrayal of Luke Skywalker, the various plot holes and inconsistencies. I have to say, I actually agree with nearly all of the complaints. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the film anyway.

At the end of the day, The Last Jedi is thrilling and fun, and it solidly lives up to expectations of what I’ve come to expect from Star Wars episodes – lots of great action and heroes that are easy to root for. The humour works for me too – the funny scenes are some of my favourite parts of the movie. Oh, and overpowered BB-8 is awesome!

Mid-Autumn 2017 Anime Ranking


01. RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE (Netojuu no Susume) (ep. 1-10 complete) – 30-year-old Moriko reacquaints herself with the world of online gaming after leaving her job. She soon becomes very attached to Fruits de Mer and her in-game friends. Little does she know that real life and fantasy are about to collide in unexpected ways.

This is such a cute and sweet show. The characters are sympathetic, likeable, and funny. Moriko’s reactions are especially great.

On a personal level, I’ve never been much of a gamer myself, but I have recently developed an attachment to an online game for the first time in my entire life (note: see previous post). Even though it’s not an MMO, the experience nevertheless gives me an extra level of intimate familiarity with some of the themes of this anime. Yes, I can attest it is absolutely believable that a grown professional woman could carry on like a middle-school girl because of a game.

Unlike Moriko though, I did not quit my day job and become an Elite NEET. Not yet anyway!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


02. INUYASHIKI LAST HERO (ep. 1-9) – Ichirou, a middle-aged man who appears older than his years, and Hiro, a high school boy, are both killed when a flying saucer crash-lands into them. The hit-and-run aliens proceed to hastily reconstruct the victims’ bodies using machinery in an effort to cover up the accident. Thus, our 2 main characters unwittingly become cyborgs at the start of this action/sci-fi drama.

INUYASHIKI examines how Ichirou and Hiro each handle their newfound bodies and super-human abilities in vastly different ways. The consequences that result are fascinating, often tragic, and thought-provoking.


03. JUNI TAISEN: ZODIAC WAR (ep. 1-10) – Warriors representing the 12 animals of the Zodiac are recruited to take part in an epic battle royale. It’s a fight to the death where the last survivor is the victor.

JUNI TAISEN spends a lot of time setting up elaborate back stories for the various participants. The stories are good, but it’s weird that the characters are often killed off quickly and unceremoniously afterward without really getting to demonstrate their skills in a proper fight.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


04. DREAM FESTIVAL! R (ep. 7-12 complete) – Depending on how you count them, there are as many as 6 male-idol series this season. (Note that I am not even counting the female-idol shows!) TSUKIPRO, THE iDOLM@STER SideM, DYNAMIC CHORD, and Love Rice 2 are fully part of the Autumn cour. IDOLISH7 doesn’t officially start until January, however 2 advance episodes have been broadcast already. That brings me to DREAM FESTIVAL! R, which began airing mid-August and thus already had 6 episodes under its belt before the current season began.

Of the many idol franchises, DREAM FES is probably one of the least hyped of the bunch. It happens to also be one of the best of its genre. Well, STARMYU is probably more crazy-fun overall, but that show is also way cheesier and more fantastical, whereas DREAM FES is a little more grounded in depicting the hard work and challenges faced by the performers.

I still dislike the CG stage work and transformations, which can’t be helped, but the narrative parts are really good! The characterizations are detailed, and the expressions and interactions show that the creators put a lot of effort into making each of the guys seem like real people with their own goals and perspectives. It helps too, that there are only 2 main units, consisting of 7 guys total, a manageable number.

KUROFUNE received a bit more of the spotlight this time around, which suited me just fine. I thought Keigo and Yuto’s development in the first half was believable. I totally didn’t expect that we’d be seeing Keigo’s schoolyard bullies again too, but I loved that even that relationship got revisited.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

05. Food Wars! The Third Plate (Shokugeki no Souma: San no Sara) (ep. 1-10) – The first 5 episodes covered Totsuki’s Moon Festival, in which Souma was cast as the underdog (again) against one of the Elite Ten. Then things took a sudden dark turn as Erina’s creepy father returned from exile to engineer a hostile takeover of the school, putting everyone and everything at the whim of his unbending beliefs of culinary right and wrong. Souma and company quickly find themselves at odds with this new dictatorship; but of course our hero has never been one to back down when it comes to taking on the establishment.

Souma’s cool confidence is always fun to watch; and as usual, the dishes featured in the show look scrumptious.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


06. THE IDOLM@STER SideM (ep. 0-9) – The idols of 315 Productions number 19 in this guy-version of the iDOLM@STER franchise. I absolutely do have trouble recognizing all the characters and placing them in their respective groups.

It’s an interesting gimmick that the agency specifically recruits talent from outside the entertainment field, however some cases are not as convincing as others. It’s hard to buy a doctor and lawyer putting aside their hard-earned and expensive educations to become idols (when they haven’t even been barred from practising their professions), for instance.

I do appreciate that the performances are beautifully animated and not all CGI, truly a rarity nowadays for an idol show. I also love the realistic depictions of various locales, some of which are familiar to me in real life, including Haneda airport and some of the livehouses where the units perform.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

07. GARO -VANISHING LINE- (ep. 1-10) – The latest GARO anime takes place in the fictional location of Russell City, USA, a dark and gritty urban jungle. Once again, there’s a whole new set of characters to accompany the new setting.

So what’s good about this GARO? Well the animation and fight scenes are intense and packed with motion. Frankly, it’s a bit much for my poor little computer to handle sometimes! Also, the show features a lot of racial diversity among the characters without making a big deal of it. And from Gina to Sister to Luke’s mom Adelaide, I can’t think of many series with such an impressive collection of seriously cool and kick-ass ladies.

How does it compare to the 2 previous GARO anime series so far? I think it’s not quite as good as GARO THE ANIMATION; I still liked that one more, and more consistently. However, VANISHING LINE is way, way, way better than CRIMSON MOON.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


08. Children of the Whales (Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau) (ep. 1-9) – The first episode was intriguing and beautiful, probably the best premiere of the season. However, it didn’t really set the tone for the rest of the series, which went on to take several sudden left turns in the following weeks.

Cerebrally, I liked seeing the differing approaches taken by Suou and Ouni when their people were attacked. I personally agree with Suou’s high-minded tactics more, but I can appreciate that sometimes it’s only the person who’s willing to get his hands dirty (and bloody) who can get favourable results when your opponent is not so high-minded.

The more fantastical content, related to the Nous at the heart of the ship, is weird and not explained that well, so I don’t enjoy that stuff as much as the character drama.
(to stream at NETFLIX eventually)

09. TSUKIPRO THE ANIMATION (ep. 1-10) – Another slice-of-life idol anime where it’s a weekly challenge to identify the characters and match them with the units they each belong to. Just to complicate things, people from TSUKIUTA. also make cameo appearances occasionally.

The highlight of the series was ep. 5, which might have been one of the best things I’ve seen this season. Basically, the 4 guys of SolidS went on a drive around the city in a borrowed car. TSUKIPRO is not exactly a plot-driven show anyway, so this was the perfect way to get us familiar with these idols as they experienced something mundane, yet funny and very relatable.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

10. Welcome to the Ballroom (Ballroom e Youkoso) (ep. 13-23) – Recent episodes have been more focused on the characters than the dancing, which is a welcome change, in my opinion. And when there is dancing, it’s often actually animated, not just still frames.

The sexism and occasional body-shaming still crop up, but I’ve gotten past that in this show. By now, I can just ignore that stuff and try to make the most of the positives.


11. King’s Game The Animation (Ou-sama Game The Animation) (ep. 1-9) – For the second time in his young life, high school student Nobuaki is targeted to participate in the King’s Game, in which he and his classmates receive mysterious text messages ordering them to do perverted and cruel things or else suffer a gruesome death. Nobuaki was the sole survivor of the earlier game.

The anime takes the unusual, and probably unwise, tactic of trying to cover the events of both King’s Games at once. In general, it is ridiculous and stupid and trashy. That said, it tends to not be boring either.

The main reason I came to this show was for coldrain’s OP “FEED THE FIRE”, a truly awesome song which really deserves to be in a better anime than this!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

12. Just Because! (ep. 1-9) – Eita reunites with his middle school friends when he returns to his hometown during his final year of high school. It is a difficult time for them, as they prepare to make the transition to the next stage of their lives, education-wise and career-wise, and in terms of romance.

The show utilizes a subtle style of storytelling. It’s so understated that it look me quite a while to figure out who is crushing on whom and what the coordinates of the love triangles are. Honestly, the languid pacing bored me for most of the first half. I’m following it a bit better now, though obviously, this isn’t really my kind of show.

13. Osomatsu-san 2 (Mr. Osomatsu 2) (ep. 1-10) – The first episode felt like a great comeback effort, but subsequent offerings haven’t really measured up to the levels of fun of the first season. In particular, I really don’t get most of the Cave-matsu skits. I enjoy them even less than the Girly-matsu stuff. If only we could get the pretty boys back instead.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


14. Code:Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ (~Sousei no Himegimi~) (ep. 1-9) – Protagonist Cardia is a walking weapon whose skin is poison to anything it touches. She ends up being taken in by Lupin and his colleagues. They are also investigating her father’s work, likely the cause of her affliction.

Code:Realize is based on an otome game, so I think we’re supposed to like at least some of the guys. Unfortunately, their personalities and the main romance (with Lupin?) are sorely underdeveloped. The story is also pretty weak, Finis’ motives especially (he’s evil).

The show looks reasonably good though. The character art and the steampunk Victorian London setting are nice.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

15. BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS (ep. 27-34) – Boruto and his classmates’ excursion to the Hidden Mist Village turned out to be pretty tedious and boring. I was so glad to see the kids back at home finally, only to discover that it means we have to sit through a bunch more filler episodes before they actually get around to the graduation exams.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

16. SENGOKU NIGHT BLOOD (ep. 1-8) – Didn’t I say, only last season, that “Warring States Era time-slip stories are a dime a dozen”? Well, here’s another one already. Just like in Ikemen Sengoku (game version), a modern day girl is magically transported back in time to an alternate reality 1500s Japan. Only in this case, the Sengoku warlords happen to be vampires and werewolves.

It’s hard to get into the story when they’re trying to incorporate so many characters in a short time, and basically not doing a very good job of it. Therefore, the events seem to unfold without proper build-up. It also bothers me that Yuzuki constantly looks out of place in her modern dress. Is it supposed to be a joke that she can’t get a change of clothes?

Stupidly, the best parts of the show are the closing credits. Almost every episode features a new song sung by a different warlord, with new visuals. My sister dropped the anime long ago, but she continues to check out the EDs. This might as well have been another idol show rather than the low-rent otome fantasy that it is.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

17. DYNAMIC CHORD (ep. 1-6) – “Dynamic” does not describe this anime at all. Not much of anything happens in it. All that the guys seem to do is brood and look up to the sky, accompanied by random sound effects and maybe a moody piano or clarinet piece. Sometimes though, they brood to rock music, and then it’s slightly better. I’m not even kidding.

There’s something to be said for plot subtlety, but this is ridiculous. These guys really need to learn to say what they think instead of cryptically running away and hiding every time. How many missing band/musician story arcs can one show have?

Some of the performance animation, if you can even call it that, is so cringingly bad, I think they would have been better off using still images. It’s perplexing that they bothered to air this in a season so overflowing with higher-budget boy-idol shows. But then again, I’m sort of still watching it. At least the music isn’t bad.

Also watching:

Love Rice 2 (Love Kome –We Love Rice- 2nd Season) (ep. 1-10) – It’s the rice idols vs. the bread idols once again, but oh no, this time ramen is also a contender. Disappointingly, the cooking feature did not make a return in this sequel.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Notable drop:

The Ancient Magus’ Bride (Mahoutsukai no Yome) (ep. 1-5) – The most hyped and probably highest-rated show of the season… didn’t really do anything for me! After the initial 2 episodes, I didn’t particularly like Elias, the mage of the title. I kind of expected that we would get some good interactions between him and Chise that would endear them both to the audience, but that hasn’t been the case at all. Instead, the following story arcs were more on the arty, philosophical, and dry side. The pacing was slow enough to rival the underachieving DYNAMIC CHORD and there was basically no humour.

It seems to be a high budget production, so the imagery is pretty, but this type of fantasy anime just doesn’t appeal to my plebeian tastes. I have a feeling that fans of Mushishi or Natsume’s Book of Friends (both of which I also eventually dropped) would have a better appreciation for this sort of show.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Ikemen Sengoku – Dueling Hearts

From November the 12th to the 26th, CYBIRD’s Ikemen Sengoku mobile game hosted the Dueling Hearts Story Event, which saw warlord pitted against warlord in 3-part stories. Now that it’s over, I think it should be safe to reminisce and to talk about it. By grinding the Glam Offs, and with more than a little help from some great friends on- and off-line, I was able to complete all 5 Premium endings as well as 2 of the Sweet endings.

Probably the most straightforward duel was the one between my 2 best guys, Masamune VS Shingen. Just having come off of Masamune’s route in the main story, I was in the perfect mindset to feel loyal and faithful to him, yet tempted by the charms of Shingen.

I chose Masamune’s (Premium) ending first and actually found it a bit boring! Partly, that was because the compliments that the MC gave him felt insincere. I wished Masamune hadn’t worded the question in terms of coolness, since it seemed clear to me that Shingen’s smart and measured approach to fighting was cooler, not to mention his ability to read the situation from someone else’s point of view.

I did enjoy Shingen’s (Sweet) ending, which I took the second time around. (Full disclosure: It may be obvious already, but I am very biased. I like Shingen a lot.) In it, he and the MC got to spend a few hours together. They ruminated on what might have been if things had happened differently. It was really more bittersweet than sweet and it just hit me in the feels.

Regrettably, I didn’t take any screencaps of the Nobunaga VS Kennyo route. It was pretty interesting and shed light on Kennyo as a kind and decent person, you know, other than that revenge obsession.


From the anime, I know that Mitsunari is an Ieyasu fanboy, while Ieyasu treats him coldly in return. There hasn’t been much interaction between them in the main stories so far, at least as far as I’ve gotten. In Ieyasu VS Mitsunari, we finally got some explanation as to why they feel the way they do about each other, as their contrasting methods were applied in a duel to see who would be strongest.


Hideyoshi VS Kenshin played up the warlords’ respective personalities and was surprisingly funny. Kenshin’s pretty much a single-minded, cold-blooded thug; and I’m not saying he’d be good boyfriend material or anything, but I quite liked him in this route because he was so well-written.


The Yukimura VS Mitsuhide route was probably the most dramatic, what with the espionage and covert operations and fighting on a rooftop in gale force winds. In both endings, things escalated pretty quickly on the romance front as well. I didn’t get to follow Mitsuhide’s (Sweet) ending personally, but I have it on good authority that it included a near marriage proposal! And in Yukimura’s (Premium) ending, this:

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

An immortal warrior named Manji joins forces with a girl who is out to avenge her murdered family in director Miike Takashi’s 100th film.

I enjoyed the humour that was in the movie, although I personally thought there could have been more of it. Some of the quieter scenes dragged on a bit too, which needlessly slowed the pace in several parts.

But, as far as grand sword fighting spectacles go, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL delivered what it promised. The body count was astoundingly high. So lots of good fun, in other words.

Rin, the lead girl, was pretty useless though! If she was supposed to be nothing more than a damsel in distress, they should have just made her that. Instead, I got the impression she was one of the better students at her father’s dojo. And she trained for her revenge every day with Manji, only to end up utterly incapable of defending herself! I have to conclude that probably the villain was right when he dismissed her father’s abilities; maybe he (and his sword style) really did suck.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

spider-man-homecoming

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

This third incarnation of Spider-Man, in a span of only 15 years, stars Tom Holland as the newest friendly neighborhood web-slinger. And it gets it right, in my opinion. To my mind, this is how Spider-Man should be: very smart, very funny, and roughly equal parts cool and uncool.

After the opening credits, a recollection of the climactic fight from CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is presented, as seen from Peter’s point of view. It’s really funny stuff.

Since that incident, Peter spends his days fighting crime locally and trying to keep his secret identity from friends and family. All the while, he’s waiting for his next major assignment from Tony Stark, orders which never seem to come. But there’s trouble brewing…

The cast is terrific in this movie. Most notably, Michael Keaton (ex-Batman) is really believable in his role.

Captain America, who of course was on the opposite side of the “civil war,” does not get treated nicely by this film.

Mid-Summer 2017 Anime Ranking

This post was delayed unfortunately, due to the fact that I fell behind on my anime viewing. But as per usual, the ranking applies to the first 7 to 10 episodes of the current season only. Some of these shows have ended already and that is not being covered here. My apologies for the lateness.

Shingeki no Bahamut VIRGIN SOUL-19
01. Rage of Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL (Shingeki no Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL) (ep. 14-21) – No surprise this time. This summer has been a pretty weak season in general for anime and Rage of Bahamut 2 has had absolutely no challengers for the top spot, as far as I’m concerned.

In this second cour, I am very surprised, but also happy, that the romance subplot has become as prominent as the overarching conflict between the angels, demons, and humans; maybe more so. I didn’t go into BahaSOUL looking for love (that’s true in more ways than one), but I’m solidly onboard when the love story is set in the middle of a complicated narrative that’s populated with so many intensely likeable characters.

I continue to admire the confident and straightforward storytelling, even if this second half is maybe not quite as well-written as the first. After all, I have to admit it does seem a tad contrived that Nina and Charioce did not discuss what their side was aiming to do when they had the opportunity to. Considering that their respective goals include trying to thwart and/or kill the other party, it would have made sense to coordinate things a little bit better.

Oh yeah, after much teasing and withholding, Favaro is back for real now, a little older, a little wiser, and indeed, a little hotter than before.

ikemen sengoku 03
02. Ikemen Sengoku: Bromances Across Time (Ikemen Sengoku: Toki wo Kakeru ga Koi wa Hajimaranai) (ep. 1-10) – Warring States Era time-slip stories are a dime a dozen, but this is the most adorable series of its type that I’ve ever seen. I can’t get enough of chibi Oda Nobunaga, Date Masamune, and all the other little Sengoku warlords. Each of the mini hotties moves individually and behaves in distinctly characteristic ways too. It’s so cute and detailed! The creative camera work adds a lot to the amusement as well.

Originally, I had hoped that Ikemen Sengoku would be like the Chiruran short, only with a little more substance. Well, it has far exceeded my expectations. The random gags are really funny (especially ep. 3, when Masamune and his pals learn to rap), and there is actually an honest-to-goodness plot. As if that wasn’t enough, how about some chibi sword-fight action? It’s got that too!

I recommend watching each episode more than once. There are usually several characters on screen and a lot of little things going on at the same time. This is a 3-minute short – things happen fast.

The sexually suggestive end cards, a shout out to Ikemen Sengoku’s otome game roots, are a bit much though. I can see them turning off male viewers especially, which would be a shame.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Made in Abyss 5
03. MADE IN ABYSS (ep. 1-10) – Child explorer Riko descends into the frightening depths of the Abyss in search of her mother. She is accompanied by her newfound best friend Reg, a robot boy she picked up in the Abyss. I liked the early parts best, when Riko and Reg were interacting with the other kids in the orphanage. Things have gotten decidedly darker and more disturbing since they set off on their journey.

I am watching this anime for Reg. I love his tolerant disposition, his gentle compassion, his thoughtfulness, his intelligence, his sense of morality, and his loyalty. More than any of the show’s other great mysteries, including Riko’s mother and the Abyss itself, I am curious about Reg and want to see him get answers to the question of who he is. Where did he come from; how is he part human and also part machine? Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get those kinds of answers any time soon.

Saiyuki Reload Blast
04. SAIYUKI RELOAD BLAST (ep. 1-10) – As a newcomer to the series, I’m certain there are many things I don’t understand as well as I could. However, SAIYUKI RELOAD BLAST is enjoyable even to me and it doesn’t seem to be too hard to follow in general. The 4 guys of the Genjo Sanzo Party get plenty of opportunities to show off their personalities through their interactions, and it’s often very funny.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Katsugeki Touken Ranbu 09
05. Katsugeki / TOUKEN RANBU (ep. 1-10) – The Touken Danshi are Sword Warriors. They travel through time to stop the ghostly Time Retrograde Army, who are sent from the future, from changing past events.

Although the narrative got a bit unfocused in the middle, the main takeaway is how challenging it can be for the Touken Danshi to perform their duties. What if preserving history meant ensuring the death or suffering of innocents? Furthermore, what kind of toll would it take on the psyche if the doomed party happened to be someone they once knew and respected?

Katsugeki / TOUKEN RANBU is made by ufotable, the folks who gave us Fate/Zero. Unsurprisingly, this is one good-looking anime.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

06. BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS (ep. 14-23) – The ghost arc concluded (with the perpetrator getting off a little too easy in my opinion); and it was followed up by a handful of Sarada-centric episodes featuring her quest to learn more about her father and her lineage. In spite of being almost entirely Boruto-less, these episodes were some of the strongest of the series so far. Of course, Sarada did have the original Team 7: Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura as her co-stars.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Kakegurui - 10
07. KAKEGURUI (Compulsive Gambler) (ep. 1-10) – Jabami Yumeko, a beautiful and smart gambling addict, joins an academy that incorporates gambling into all its extra-curricular activities. There, she proceeds to mess with the social order.

The characters are rather two-faced and irredeemable all around, but there’s no denying the show can be morbidly entertaining to watch.
(to stream at NETFLIX eventually)

08. Fastest Finger First (Nana maru San batsu, 7O3X) (ep. 1-10) – The buildup for this quiz-sport anime was not that exciting, so it’s taken a while to get rolling, but Fastest Finger First has taken off now that we know the players better and they are actively participating in a quiz meet.

As an aside, we happened to catch some of the real-life high school quiz bowl on TV while we were in Japan recently, which was pretty cool. This stuff is real.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Re Creators - 17
09. Re:CREATORS (ep. 13-20) – The show continues to be pretty talky and very meta. If I’m looking forward to it more than I used to, it’s mostly because I care more about the characters now that I know them better. Well, some of them I still don’t really get, including Altair and Magane, but I did appreciate the development that Selesia and her creator, Matsubara, have undergone.

I’ve almost forgotten that Souta is supposed to be the main character though. I wonder when he will become relevant.

10. My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia) Season 2 (ep. 27-35) – The practical training placement arc and the fight against Stain were not as interesting to me as the tournament, but they did reveal that there are darker things to come. Also, while I agree that Stain’s ideology had some merit, I thought it was grossly oversimplified and overstated.

But first, it’s time for the kids’ practical exams, which is the kind of material that My Hero Academia really excels at.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

11. Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun (Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun, Cleanliness Boy! Aoyama-kun) (ep. 1-10) – Ostensibly, this is a sports anime featuring a clean freak soccer player. There isn’t really all that much soccer, though; and even the clean freak isn’t the featured character in many of the episodes! He’s more of a mystical enigma that other people react to. Luckily, these other characters are quite often at least as interesting as Aoyama himself.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Ballroom e Youkoso 02
12. Welcome to the Ballroom (Ballroom e Youkoso) (ep. 1-9) – There was a lot of hype for Ballroom before it started, but compared to the other unconventional sports show that’s airing (the quizzing anime), this one surprisingly doesn’t fare as well for me. It’s actually easier to grasp the rules and strategy of quiz bowl than ballroom dancing.

I’m also finding it hard to sympathize with the characters. The females, especially, get the shaft in terms of development. It often seems they exist only to be accessories to the men; and in fact, that is the way competitive ballroom dancing is evaluated? I didn’t know that. That underlying patriarchal, boys-club vibe, embodied by Tatara’s teacher Sengoku, kind of rubs me the wrong way.

The show is clearly knowledgeable about the dancing and the fancy moves, but the actual animation is limited and consists mostly of still-shots and pans. Yuri!!! on ICE this is not. Also, those stretched necks and distorted bodies are hard to get used to, though I’m trying. It just doesn’t look that good, c’mon.

13. Princess Principal (ep. 1-9) – The episodic spy stories, which seem to be presented not in chronological order, are reasonably interesting on their own; but I think I would enjoy everything better if I knew what the overall plot was.

Or maybe I just don’t have enough of a thing for cute girls as spies.

14. CHRONOS RULER (Jikan no Shihaisha) (ep. 1-10) – The actual plot involving trying to get Victor’s time and memory back is kind of boring. What makes this thing watchable is the humour that arises from the characters’ personality traits and quirks.

For example, it’s funny how Kiri is the most serious member of the family group and yet, since he is technically the youngest, he gets the least respect. Also, it was amusing the way Blaze spent all of ep. 8 in the background trying to solve a mildly complicated math problem.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

isekai shokudou 01
15. Restaurant to Another World (Isekai Shokudou) (ep. 1-10) – Once a week, the door to Nekoya Restaurant appears in other worlds and mystical creatures can enter and enjoy an exquisite meal of western-style Japanese cuisine.

The episodes are easy to watch and the food looks good. I do appreciate that the show attempts to tie some of the random stories together, but there’s really very little in the way of plot.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

16. THE REFLECTION (ep. 1-8) – Well, this is different. It’s a Stan Lee anime, and appropriately, it is flat-looking and minimally animated, sort of like a Western superhero comic book come to life. It sounded like a great idea and I was looking forward to it, but the pacing is strangely slow and I’m frustrated by the lack of music during most of the scenes.

Despite being one of the main characters, X-On seems rather unmotivated; it’s just weird. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be funny or what? Once, when Eleanor was captured, he simply went back to the car and sat down! He always has a mask on, so it’s really impossible to tell what he’s thinking or feeling when he’s doing nothing, which is most of the time.

I will say 9nine’s ending song is really catchy though. In a pretty weak season for anime music as well as anime in general, “SunSunSunrise” is proving to be one of the highlights.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

17. Ninja Girl & Samurai Master S2 (Nobunaga no Shinobi: Ise Kanegasaki-hen) (ep. 40-49) – The other super-cute, Sengoku-period chibi comedy short starring Oda Nobunaga. While still played for laughs, this ongoing series at least endeavours to be a slightly more accurate representation of historical events than the ikemen short.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

vatican miracle examiner
18. Vatican Miracle Examiner (Vatican Kiseki Chousakan) (ep. 1-9) – Roberto and Hiraga are Vatican priests hired specifically to debunk false miracles, so they are uniquely required by their jobs to tread the fine line between being believers and disbelievers.

For a show featuring the Catholic faith, there’s an awful lot of occult, blasphemy, Satan-worship, wielding the Bible to inflict blunt-force trauma, and Nazis. It’s actually pretty hilarious. Those endless panning shots – seriously, it’s hard to find a scene that doesn’t pan – that’s hilarious too.

Quite obviously, I cannot recommend Vatican Miracle Examiner as a good anime. However, we genuinely get a lot of laughs at the expense of the show and its characters, so I won’t say it isn’t fun to watch.

19. DIVE!! (ep. 1-10) – All the exclamation marks cannot hide how boring this diving anime is. Part of the problem is that diving is a lonely, individual sport. There is no team.

DIVE!! seems to preach that if you are not giving up everything to devote yourself to the sport, then you’re not trying hard enough. I mean it’s one thing to resign yourself to the fact that you won’t have much opportunity for fun and socializing while training, and accept it; it’s quite another to have your mentors tell you outright to forget about your friends and to not be too buddy-buddy with potential rivals. It’s just so unpleasant.

Ironically, they’ve more or less thrown that out the window now. Yoichi has temporarily(?) taken over the main character role and, in spite of what he said to Tomo earlier, he’s actually interacting with his club-mates like they’re friends or something! The show is definitely better for it anyway.

20. KONBINI KARESHI (Convenience Store Boy Friends) (ep. 1-7) – I thought this would be silly and fun. Oh how wrong I was. How did we end up with a slow-moving, humourless romance following several potential couples, none of whom come across as interesting or particularly likeable? The titular convenience store is hardly in it even, and it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the story whatsoever.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

MOANA

moana

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

When her idyllic homeland becomes blighted by a spreading curse, the Chief’s daughter sets out on a quest to find the fallen hero who triggered the curse, and make him correct his wrongdoing.

The early part of the film was my favourite because it was so insanely cute! Pua the adorable pig, the little sea turtle, and baby Moana! Hnnngg!

The rest of the movie played out like a pirate adventure starring a capable heroine. It was somewhat predictable, but satisfactorily enjoyable nonetheless.

Another highlight was the animated/moving tattoos covering Maui’s body, which not only looked impressive, but was literally a character of its own.

I felt pretty meh about most of the soundtrack; not because it was bad, only that it was just not my kind of music.

BLAME!

blame

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

Like the TV series KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA, this film is also an adaptation of a Nihei Tsutomu manga by animation studio POLYGON PICTURES. As such, the 2 projects have a similar gritty, dark, monochromatic aesthetic. Certainly, there are still limitations on how good CGI animation can look, but POLYGON is demonstrating here that they currently do the best work in this field. The background images and the action sequences, in particular, are stunning.

BLAME! takes place in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting in which the centralized technology operates blindly on its own, no longer recognizing the commands of humans. Instead, humans are seen as a threat to the system and are brutally purged by the Safeguard whenever they are detected. One small village of people known as Electro-Fishers has barely gotten by for decades, trapped in a protected space. But now they face extinction from starvation.

I would have expected one of the draws of the film to be Sakurai Takahiro as the lead character. Unfortunately, you might be disappointed if you are here for Sakurai, since the mysterious hero Killy hardly ever speaks! It’s a good thing (for me) Miyano Mamoru is also in this thing, in a supporting role, and his character actually gets to talk.

I was a bit disturbed by the rough way in which Killy handled the remains of Cibo. Yes, it was clear that she was basically a machine; but regardless, she looked human! I was also suitably terrified whenever the Safeguard activated to exterminate the villagers.

Some things do not get fully explained during the film, such as how Killy and Cibo came to be. Everything is also not resolved for everyone, so the door is open for a potential continuation of the story down the line.